A Small Freedom

Look at what the new world hath wrought ~from A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry

Two years ago, I had dinner at a local place in Alexandria, Virginia. As is commonplace for me, I asked the waiter, a thin, olive-skinned, curly haired young man to repeat his name.

“It’s Mo,” he said.

I took note of each of his features. “You don’t look like a Mo.”

“Well, if you knew my real name, you’d say the same thing.”

Mo continued to answer our questions, this time about the menu and its oddities. As soon as he finished, I started back in.

“So, are you gonna share your real name with us?”

Mo then told us that his name was Mohammad. It was actually Mohammad, middle name: Arab, last name: Arab. Mo’s entire name is Arab. He joked about how difficult it was to fly and how it just minimized quite a bit of confusion for him to go by Mo.

I’m not sure if Mo realized how uncomfortable he looked explaining his identity to me, a stranger. And I totally understand that his uncomfortableness could have been due to an unknown patron engaging him about his “real” name, an unexpected topic for a server. Whatever the reason, it was clear that Mo was a bit squirmy.

But that’s when I felt compassion for him.

I go by Kathy, but when someone asks me my “real” name, I  simply (and proudly) state that it is Katherin…no “e” at the end, Elizabeth, Garland. No hesitation. My name doesn’t accompany jokes about societal judgments, cast just because I want to do something that people do everyday…fly. I can speak my name with pride. It is a small privilege with big benefits for my so-called American life. I can speak my name without assumptions. No one (as far as I know) has made prejudiced jokes and committed microagressions towards me because of my name. I’ve never been ashamed to tell someone my name. In fact, there have been several occasions where I meet another Cathy/Kathy/Kathie/Cathie/Katie and we marvel over the unique spellings of not just our full names, but also others.

And then I felt a bit of sadness for Mo. I felt sad because your name, no matter if you love it or hate it, is a part of your identity. Your name, aside from your actual presence is one of the first things that people learn about you and who you are in the world. To not be able to speak your name, with pride, is in essence a form of shame.

That is what saddened me.

It is my hope that Mo and everyone in our country will one day have the strength to shed societal shame and speak our names with pride, no matter what we believe the name conveys. How free are we really if we can’t do something as simple as announce our names for fear of being judged? I’d say that we’re not really that free at all. What do you think?

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31 thoughts on “A Small Freedom

  1. Great example. I met someone who told me her name, I asked again to clarify and she said actually that wasn’t her full name, that it is just easier to have people use a different one. Easier for who? It is your name, they have to learn how to pronounce it properly. As a teacher, I don’t call every kid joe or sue, I learn their name regardless of their backgrounds. Great post to make people remember that we are all human.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was just thinking of that this week…maybe we should start thinking like we should think about dogs too. Animal, species, breed, name (Cesar Millan).
    Who we are, so much more important then a name 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for putting this “on front street;” it seems to be one of those issues many of us are vaguely aware of yet haven’t stopped to reflect on because it doesn’t impact us. I would like to add that I have often experienced people behaving apologetically about their given name(s) then inviting me to call them something else. But I like to for call them by their real name. To me it’s rude to automatically nickname or shorten someone else’s name because you don’t want to attempt to pronounce it correctly.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve experienced that too Leslie! I guess people do it automatically because they’re so used to people mispronouncing or not even trying, which I agree is pretty disrespectful. This is another really small thing we can all do to make the world a little better.

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  4. My name is Catherine also. I’ve seen our name spelled many different ways. But to your point, I have never had to hide my name or be afraid to say my name because of societal judgements. It is sad that this waiter felt like he had to shorten or change his name because of the way society views his heritage. It is a shame that Mohammad cannot freely say his name without thinking about racially stereotypical jokes and uncomfortable gestures. Your post reminded me of the Twitter hastag this past week #Growingupwithmyname where people expressed in an awkward joking manner, how difficult life was with having a particular name. It was harsher in hindsight to realize that people are picked on and discriminated against because of the name given to them. There have even been studies that show that people with “unique” read:Black , sounding names get turned down for jobs. Hate crimes against Arab Americans rose significantly immediately following the days and months after 9/11 because people thought of them as “terrorists” based off their names and looks. Even today, it seems as if Arab Americans and Muslims have to live in fear because of fear mongering and hate.
    You cannot choose your name, so for it to be a deciding factor in how you have to function in this society is absurd.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. This reminds me of this Jesse Williams interview I recently watched. He was explaining how every week he (and several of his black friends) have to make the decision between playing thugs/overly dramatic black characters or pay their mortgages. It’s sad that situations like this exist. Where you have to compromise your soul for a feeling of security. I pray that things change and that we all achieve freedom, true freedom.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Kathy, a heart-felt post about sadly deep truths within our society. Mo’s predicament is desperately sad – our names are our identity and it never ceases to astonish and upset me how people try to change that. Recently I met a Polish refugee from WWII who came here (to the UK) as a child, said her beautiful name and was instantly told, no, that is NOT your name and the authorities changed it. Also the lovely name she gave to her daughter sadly became more ‘anglicised’.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. You’ve found a really hot-button topic. I think that self-acceptance starts with the acceptance of one’s name. Through this, not only do you accept yourself as a person and a human being but you also accept your history, your country, your parents’ choice and your personality.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Right Marta! I find that your name is tied to all of that, so for someone to learn that they have to hide that part of him/herself seems to be the beginning of learning how not to be yourself at all.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Thank you for sharing your story. 🙂
    911.. I was not in America, but really shocked.. I think more people got more prejudice to group of people who haven’t experience after 9/11.. Most people just believe the image in Media is true.. So many minorities have various people but the image of them in Media don’t…
    I know it’s hard to break the prejudice and not to be afraid of because of lack of experiences. Hmm… It need time.. during the time the wall breaks down, people like Mo are suffering.. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right. Thanks for reading and commenting. That’s exactly my point. Over here, we don’t talk much about people like Mo. In fact, we seem to ignore it altogether. I’m glad you understood what I was saying here 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Great posting.

    I lived in Northern VA many years before retirement and I encountered many people who shortened their names to appease the fears of other people who refused to attempt to pronounce their names, or because of our societies ignorance of assumption.

    You did him a great service by engaging with him and you passed on the feeling not all people lack understanding, knowledge and empathy to connect.

    Again great posting.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Retirement Lifestyle! I totally agree with the “ignorance of assumption” part. It take so little to TRY and pronounce someone’s name correctly. And thanks for all the blog love. I appreciate it.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. of people burdened by their names (sometimes you cant help ask yourself what the parents or guardians where thinking or did they just pull it out of a hat)
    I don’t have a second name and sometimes I feel like something… maybe a part of my identity is missing if I ever become famous I cant just initial my works lol
    When I have kids going to put a lot of thought into their names
    Just recently I was reading up on an interesting concept about how our names seem to shape the type of person we become like destiny you become your name (the meaning of it) or your name becomes you.
    what really grinds my gears is when someone cant (or wont maybe ) pronounce my name properly(or at least the way I want) even after I have tried to correct them(many times), its not really that hard but well I have known me all my life
    sometimes when asked how my name is pronounced I say all the letters after the first are silent like the S in Paris 😀

    ~B

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    1. Thanks for the comment. I’d read something by someone who I can’t remember right now about how her mother told her that if people could learn to pronounce Tchaikovsky, then certainly they could learn to pronounce her name. We have to treat each other more respectfully, I think.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. I almost failed 8th grade science because my teacher insisted on pronouncing my name Yohanna. (I went on to be an engineer, so the grade was not due to aptitude). I can’t imagine how hard it must be for Mo to spend every introduction fearing a backlash. Just one encounter demoralized me. Thanks for giving him a trustworthy person to open up too.

    Liked by 3 people

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